Tuesday, 29 July 2014

What makes Flora?

A couple of weeks back, on a rainy Thursday, I headed to College Farm in Cambridgeshire, to walk through some rapeseed fields and find out what the connection between Flora and the Rapeseed on College Farm is.

Those of you that know me will be shouting 'WHAT'?!

You see, as much as I am very interested in learning all about what goes on, on a Farm. I am not the sort of person that would walk through a field where you can not see your feet, purely for the fact there may well be snakes hidden in there!! It is one of my biggest fears, it freaks me out. A lot!  

But, I did it, and I loved every minute of it!

Most of us are familiar with the brand Flora. I use the Flora Cuisine and Flora Buttery a lot when I bake. But I had never really given much thought into what ingredients are in Flora, or indeed where they come from.

One of the ingredients in Flora is rapeseed oil. Unilever, the company that own the Flora brand, work closely with LEAF to find and work with Farmers across the UK to source the rapeseed that is added to their products. If you didn't know, which I didn't before my farm visit, LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) is the leading organisation promoting sustainable agriculture, food and farming. They help farmers produce good food, with care and to high environmental standards.

Andrew Nottage, College Farm manager, took us out on a tractor/trailer to show us the Rapeseed fields and explain further how the Rapeseed on his Farm gets in the Flora product.

As you can see the Rapeseed fields are just beyond the Tractor. What I LOVED hearing about was how the Farmers are not only concerned for their crops, they are also concerned for the wildlife. For example, the big set of tree's to the right of the field are not just there to look pretty, they are there to encourage birds. The bit of green you see before the Rapeseed starts is also their to encourage wildlife, in includes certain flowers that encourage insects, such as bee's. In fact each field even has its own beehive! How awesome is that?!

We learnt a lot on our trip to the fields. We learnt that Rapeseed has to be harvested at a specific point in the farming cycle, moisture levels are critical in deciding when to harvest. It takes almost a year to grow and harvest the Rapeseed crop, if we happen to have a particularly wet time around the harvest time , then it could lead to the whole crop being destroyed. How disheartening must that be for Farmers, a whole years work, ruined.

I am a very visual person, so was really grateful when Andrew got out a square meter (made from pipe) to show us that a meter squared will plant around a kilo of Rapeseed. That kilo will produce around 440ml of Rapeseed Oil. That may not sound a lot, but looking at it in perspective, looking at the size of the whole field, this means that the Rapeseed grown here equates to almost 80,000 litres of Rapeseed oil to be put into Flora products! WOW, that is a lot!!

The Rapeseed's are black, they look similar to poppy seeds. We got to handle some and even though they didn't look it, they were very oily (hardly a surprise really when they are made into oil). We were told that none of the crop goes to waste, after the oil is extracted the rest is made into animal feed.

Now, I don't know about you, but I hadn't really put much thought into what ingredients are in Flora. I cook a lot of my meals from scratch, so have a pretty good idea what goes into them. But when I stopped to think about it, I actually have no idea what goes into the Flora that I bake with almost weekly! I am pretty annoyed with myself about this, especially with two young Children, I really should be taking more notice of these things!

Anyway now I do know, so I will let you know too....

Flora is made up of 3 key oils, Rapeseed Oil, Sunflower Oil and Linseed Oil. We got to taste all three by the way, and I can confirm that Linseed Oil is disgustingly bitter on its own! However I loved the taste of the Rapeseed Oil and wondered why on earth I have never cooked with it?!

Flora Original has 80% less saturated fat than butter. The Sunflower oil in Flora contains Omega 3, which combined with Omega 6 (also in Flora) helps to maintain cholesterol levels. Now Craig has got a cholesterol level that is a bit on the high side, so I was very pleased to hear this. I was also surprised to learn that the emulsifier in Flora also comes from Sunflower oil! So no hidden unhealthy nasties in there! It also contains vitamins A and D. I have just been diagnosed with a Vitamin D deficiency (more on that soon) so this was a nice surprise for me.

After spending lots of time out in the fields, we came back with a lot of new found crop knowledge. The afternoon was spent eating lunch and baking savory scones with Edd Kimber (winner of GBBO), I will be posting separately about that part of the day, so keep a look out for that post, coming soon!

I am so very proud of myself for going out into that field, I am very pleased to report that I didn't see a single snake the whole time I was there and I was so distracted by the information I was being given I barely thought about snakes the whole time! But more importantly, I am very grateful to Flora, College Farm, and LEAF for giving me a great insight into how Flora goes from Farm to Shelf! So Thank you very much!

How about you, do you ever stop to think about what goes into the spreads you eat or how they are made?

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